Oakland East Bay Symphony Concert Welcomes Famed Iranian Composer

By Robert Taylor

Contra Costa Times
March 12 2008

Tjeknavorian will be in the audience for Oakland East Bay Symphony’s

It was a notable event when Iranian composer Loris Tjeknavorian
arrived in the Bay Area from Tehran this week, just to attend the
Oakland East Bay Symphony’s performance on March 14 of a suite from
his opera "Rostam and Sohrab."

Notable, that is, but not unusual for the acclaimed 70-year-old
composer and conductor. He studied in Vienna and Salzburg, Austria,
and his career has taken him to Europe, Japan and South America. He
has crisscrossed the United States to conduct in Los Angeles and New
York, and teach at colleges and universities in Michigan and Minnesota.

Although he has composed more than 70 works, and recorded many of
those, he may be best known in America as a conductor. Among those
assignments, he conducted the San Francisco Opera’s 2001 American
premiere of "Arshak II" by Armenian composer Tigran Chukhadjian.

In fact, he’s visited California and the Bay Area many times, keeping
in touch with others who share his Armenian heritage, such as the
late writer William Saroyan and former governor George Deukmejian.

That heritage remains an important part of his professional life
as well. Tjeknavorian has long conducted the Armenian Philharmonic
Orchestra, and his recording of his Symphony No. 1 carries the
dedication "to the 60th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915."

"My mother escaped the massacre by the Turks in western Armenia,
and my father escaped from the Russian occupation of eastern Armenia
in 1920," Tjeknavorian said during an interview this week at the
Persian Center in downtown Berkeley. Turkey to this day denies that
it committed genocide against Armenians.

It is another facet of Tjeknavorian’s background, however, that is
central to this weekend’s concert at the Paramount Theatre. "I’m
Iranian. I was born and grew up in Iran," he says. "It’s a great

The Oakland East Bay Symphony concert is planned by music director and
conductor Michael Morgan to explore several facets of that culture. It
will include a suite from Tjeknavorian’s opera as well as the American
premiere of the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Aminollah Hossein, who was
born in Samarkand, but lived most of his life in France.

Also on the program is a selection of six folk songs representing
Iran’s different geographical regions, arranged by composer David
Garner and sung by mezzo-soprano Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai. Pianist Tara
Kamangar will be the soloist in the Hossein concerto as well as in
Rachmaninoff’s "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." Richard Strauss’
tone poem "Don Juan" completes the bill.

Tjeknavorian’s portion of the program may last 35 minutes, but the
sweep and drama of the "Rostam and Sohrab" suite, judging from the
performance he conducts on a CD, suggest the vast scale on which
he works.

"I have written eight versions of this opera over 25 years," he said,
"and this is the first time any of the music has been performed in
the United States." The opera is based on "Shahnameh," the epic poem
that follows the creation of the world up until the Islamic conquest
of seventh century Persia. It awaits its first staging, although it
has been performed as an oratorio in Iran and Austria.

Tjeknavorian thinks "” and composes "” on a grand scale.

"I like to write big works," he said.

Among them are five symphonies, four operas and a number of oratorios,
one based on Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. "The only
drawback is that it takes six hours to perform," he said. "Believe
it or not, I would like to take on the King Arthur story, if I find
a good librettist."

His next composition, he said, returns to his geographic roots. It
will be an orchestral and vocal work about Cyrus the Great, the king
of Persia in the sixth century B.C. who is known as the founder
of the Persian Empire. He is admired as a liberator rather than a
conqueror who respected the customs and religions of each part of
his vast empire.

"He was a democratic king "” just unique," Tjeknavorian said.

"His proclamation of freedom, his record on human rights were really

At home in Tehran, Tjeknavorian is busy as both as a composer (he
says his scores fill 8,000 pages in 16 volumes by now) and a symphony
conductor, giving 20 to 30 performances a year. "It is an international
mix of music," he said, including American composers Leonard Bernstein,
Samuel Barber, "and a Sousa march!"

Tjeknavorian is also a champion of the best-known Armenian composer,
Aram Khachaturian, who was born in Georgia before it became part of
the Soviet Union.

Before the 1979 revolution that ended the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza
Pahlavi, Tjeknavorian also conducted the opera orchestra in Tehran.

Now he conducts symphony concerts in the Opera House. "The Opera
doesn’t exist anymore, or the Ballet," he said.

Tjeknavorian said politics "” or strained relations between Iran
and the United States "” don’t affect his life as a composer
and conductor. "At 70, I’ve seen a lot of changes in my life," he
said. "The artists have to be smart enough not to get involved in
politics. I hope I survive all the politicians."

Reach Robert Taylor at 925-977-8428 or [email protected] newsgroup.com.

concert preview n WHAT: Oakland East Bay Symphony, "Notes from Persia"
concert: Loris Tjeknavorian, suite from the opera "Rostam and Sohrab";

Hossein, Piano Concerto No. 2; six Persian folk songs; Richard
Strauss, "Don Juan"; Sergei Rachmaninoff, "Rhapsody on a Theme of
Paganini." Michael Morgan, conductor; Tara Kamangar, piano; Raeeka
Shehabi-Yaghmai, mezzo-soprano.

n WHEN: 8 p.m. March 14

n WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland

n CONTACT: 510-625-8497, , www.paramount

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress


Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS